Fashion may be fickle, but one thing is certain: there will be a lot of bare shoulders this year. Not only on the beaches and at grand parties, but at lunches at nice restaurants, in theaters, at private dinners: where women gather, smooth shoulders will be prominent.
Designers at all levels whether their eye is on women in their 20s, women in their 30s or women who dare not tell their age have filled their collections with strapless clothes, and retailers approve. The clothes will begin arriving in stores this month.
Oh, there are other approaches to bareness: off-the-shoulder tops, bodices supported by shoestring or spaghetti strands and necklines with one covered shoulder all have their advocates. But straplessness dominates, for all hours of the day, at all prices.
It can look like wide-eyed innocence or sultry sophistication. It can be part of the most casual sportswear for lolling in the park on a Saturday afternoon, for example or it can be decked out in jewels to dazzle at a charity ball.
Shoulder-baring tops are usually accompanied by short skirts, but not necessarily. They can be completed with shorts, trousers or bouffant long skirts. They are often part of dresses sheltered by coats and jackets during the workday, and seductively unadorned at the cocktail hour and for dinner.
While most strapless dresses are straight and narrow, some have skirts that billow out like a 6-year-old's at a birthday party. Some are as tailored as a shirt or a safari jacket; some glisten with jewels and sequins. One group of lace dresses is smooth at the front and juts out at back like a bustle. The fabric ranges from inexpensive stretch nylon to luxurious embroidered brocade.
Designers call strapless designs a sign of a spring season based on simple, direct clothes. Minimalists like Calvin Klein like the spare look. Romantics like Arnold Scaasi say it makes women look pretty. Gloria Sachs insists that it's young looking, Oscar de la Renta that it's quintessentially feminine.
What about women who don't care to bare their shoulders? Designers point out that cover-ups like scarfs and jackets are available for times when strapless tops are not appropriate. While they recognize that some women are self-conscious about wearing strapless dresses, they note that few worry about baring their shoulders in swimsuits.
"Some women feel their shoulders aren't good enough," Klein said, "but this is not always true. When they see how comfortable strapless clothes can be, many will be converted."
Play clothes and evening dresses are traditionally strapless. The only area that designers think might be a problem is in serious day clothes. "The jacket is the solution," de la Renta said. "If a woman is going on to a party or dinner, she just has to take it off."
What with short hemlines and bare shoulders, the new season offers a minimum of coverage. So spring clothes will glide into the warmer months. Strapless styles will have a long season.